Saturday, June 28, 2014

Top 12 reasons why Jason Kidd might go to the Bucks, rather than stay with the Nets

Have Bald Head, Will Travel
12) As a guy with a spousal abuse and DUI on his record who spent time on five different teams despite being a Hall of Famer, is always ready to pack a bag

11) The Nets aren't giving him a promotion, and keep asking about those TPS reports

10) He doesn't understand why Doc Rivers has more power than him, since he was a much better player

9) Would like to see what it's like to coach players who he didn't play with before the millennium

8) Having been the best player on Nets teams that went to the Finals, and the coach of a team that went two rounds deep, while the Knicks failed to qualify and still got the most media, just has to rankle

7) Is a secret Mormom and feels compelled to coach Jabari Parker

6) Doesn't seem to think that being a second round doormat in a weak conference is likely to keep him employed for a mad Russian oligarch for very long

5) Billy King, the team's GM since 2010, has a long and storied history of, well, being Billy King

4) Wants more responsibility and doesn't care that he has to live in freaking Milwaukee to get it

3) Thinks the Bucks are ripe for a move to Seattle, and he might as well get in early

2) It's still the lEast, which means it's till criminally easy to win 45 games, go to the playoffs, and get some clueless Coach of the Year consideration

1) Like anyone else who has lived in Brooklyn for a year, can't wait to get the hell away from all of the goddamned hipsters

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sixer Draft: Re-Tank and Re-Load

Re-Tank? Re-Tank
"I'm living in fear of Joel Embiid at 3, Dario Saric at 10, Tank Year Two, and neither guy working out." - Me, June 25, 11:38pm, on a friend's Facebook feed

Well, um, so that happened.

Before we discuss tonight's Sixer selections, let me take you back into distant NBA history, which I remember because I am old and That Way.

Once upon a time, an NBA team had the first pick in the draft. There was a clear top pick available in terms of talent, but the player, a big man of unquestioned talent and character, was unable to start his career right away. The wise club stashed him, and won 31 games, up from 28 the year before, with no benefit from the pick. The next year, they kind of whiffed on their middling first rounder, and won just 21 games. Then, in the third year, they finally got the big man, tied him to the third overall pick in the draft, a quality SG, and presto, 56 wins and the second seed.

The big man was David Robinson, who had to serve two years in the Navy before embarking on his NBA career. The SG was Sean Elliot, who was a quality piece for them before illness and injury. And in 1996, when Robinson was only able to play six games due to injury, the team won just 20 games and got lucky in the lottery, getting Tim Duncan. And that's the cornerston for the Spurs being a championship contender for nearly the last 30 years.

Sixers GM Sam Hinkie had the ability to dramatically improve a 19 win team tonight. He could have chosen PF Julius Randle, the new Zach Randolph, that would have given them a low-post scoring presence and clearly NBA ready body, with the third pick. (Randle went 7th, to the Lakers.) With the 10th pick, he could have selected Doug McDermott, the small college scorer with the best shooting ability on the board at that point in the draft, and slotted him at SG. Hell, by taking Randle at 3, maybe the rest of the draft board shakes out where they get SG Nik Stauskas, who went to Sacramento at 8, and who was widely listed as being perfect for the team at 10 in most mock drafts. You never know.

This is not, of course, what Hinkie did. Instead, he took two assets -- Kansas center Joel Embiid and Croatian power forward Dario Saric, acquired after a masterful bit of draft subterfuge that netted the team another first round pick in a future draft -- that aren't likely to help the team win any additional games this year. Hell, Saric might not come over for years, as his rights are currently held by a team in Turkey, and if plays horribly there or gets hurt, we might never see him. You never know. In doing so, the club is likely to miss the playoffs and be very high in the lottery again next year, in a draft class of unknown quality. They might not even win the 19 games they won last year, if PG Michael Carter-Williams regresses, or C Nerlens Noel isn't good after his injury redshirt.

Defeatist Sixer Fan, of which there are many, are convinced that this is part of the ownership's distressed asset nature, and that if a winning team eventually happens after all of this tanking, well, that's just a happy accident. And clearly, with the Bucks and Clippers going for unexpected prices (because, well, the revenue streams are much more global than most US sports fans realize), that's a very real possibility. And I was dreading exactly what the Sixers, so I must be miserable, right?

Well, sure. Not getting Wiggins sucks, and even if all of these assets were in town and healthy, it's a disjointed team that's probably not aesthetically pleasing. But, well, in looking at the draft with 2am eyes, I'm not sure what else was to be done. It really doesn't look like the Cavs were ready to roll the dice on Embiid, which would be necessary to get them to take a 3/10/32 pick bonanza for the #1 pick, and there was no clear 3rd or 4th value in the draft. Most mocks had Aussie PG Dante Exum going at 4, and that didn't happen, and certainly was never, for a franchise still tied at the waist to Kyrie Irving. The Sixers needed two serious NBA starters from this draft to build a championship level team, and once Embiid got hurt, that just wasn't going to happen. Randle and McDermott might have long NBA careers, but it's going to be on offense, and that's an unlikely way to win playoff games.

In the second round, Hinkie grabbed SF KJ McDaniels from Clemson, and SF Jerami Grant from Syracuse. Both guys might be reasonable benchies. McDaniels is versatile and a bit small, and Grant can jump out of the building and play defense; if you were able to morph them into one complete player, you'd really have something that could start, but otherwise it's just two competent benchers. As the club didn't really have many guys that were NBA players on their bench last year, both could stick, and that's all you can hope for in the second.

Then Hinkie went into stash and swap mode, moving PG Russ Smith to New Orleans for old friend Pierre Jackson, who went over in last year's Jrue Holliday trade, but clearly did enough in the D-League to be on Hinkie's re-grab list. The last two picks were for two guys from the same team in Serbia, PG Vasilije Micic and SG Nemanja Dangubic, and it's always better to have guys like this wash out in Europe than here. If nothing else, it will give the Sixers plenty of off-hour basketball to watch, in between the Turkish club that will employ Saric, and the Serbian guys. Late word says that the club moved Dangubic to the Spurs for Jordan McRae and Cory Jefferson, AKA two guys that were drafter after him. McRae's a SG from Tennessee, while Jefferson is a PF from Baylor, and they are NBA-ready, if not NBA-level.

Unless Hinkie is somehow able to convince some reasonable free agents, this all means that last year's 19 win club is going to win, at most, 25 this year. (This assumes Embiid misses the whole year, and -- news flash! -- he's going to miss the whole year. The Sixers have a method here, people.) And the team is far from finished, because even if Noel / Embiid / Saric / Williams and SG to be drafter in 2015 is tenable, it's still two guys who both want to play C, with one having to play PF, and that probably means someone's getting dealt. SF Thaddeus Young is probably getting moved out of charity, Carter-Williams was actively thinking on camera that he was on his way out of town before the Saric trade, and we're still at least a year away from the club honestly starting the season with the hope of making the playoffs.

And if Embiid turns into Duncan to Noel's Robinson, with Saric sneaking in as a Chandler Parsons / Toni Kukoc kind of guy?

No one will remember the two seasons of borderline unwatchable ball that set them out to get all of this talent.

Or how very little Sixer Fan came out to watch before they were good on the court, as well as at the GM level...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Below Average Pitcher Dominates Historically Terrible Team

Nice Stache, Better Day
That'd be Tim Lincecum, who took his +4.5 ERA and +1.4 WHIP into a game with the pathetic Padres, and nine nearly perfect innings later, left with a 6-5 record, a 4.42 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and his second career no-hitter, both in the last calendar year, both against the Padres.

Now, I don't doubt that Lincecum had his best stuff today. The game was at home, where he's a 3-2 guy with a 3.75 ERA this year. He kept his pitch count low, unlike last year's wipeout masterpiece. And in the ninth inning, with history on the line, he was still hitting 90 on the gun, which is about as good as he can do now that he's 30, and several years past when he was, well, good. He threw 113 pitches today, 73 for strikes, and was just a second inning walk away from perfection.

But, um, does it surprise anyone that it was the Padres?

Here's how bad San Diego is at offense. Their leadoff hitter, Will Venable, is hitting .197, with an OPS of under .540. Three starters join him under .600 (#2 hitter Everth Cabrera, and #7 hitter Alexi Amarista). This, of course, doesn't take into consideration the pitcher, Ian Kennedy, who is sub .400. Two starters (platoon journeyman OF Seth Smith and second-year first baseman Tommy Medica, who is 26 and alas, also nothing like a prospect) manage to get over .700 OPS. The entire club has scored 238 runs this year in 78 games, which is to say, just over 3 per game. The aggregate team OPS is .616; the next worse mark in MLB is the Cubs, at .668. If you are in a fantasy league where a Padre hitter is owned, you have a guy who is eating categories for Cabrera's 13 steals at shortstop, and that's about it, assuming you aren't in an absurdly deep league that prides itself on pain. Or maybe one that doesn't allow transactions, which means some poor schmuck is still suffering through those Chase Headley, Cameron Maybin, Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso ABs.

How bad are they? They've been shut out a dozen times already this year. There is no reason, other than the entropy that the long baseball season attracts to give every team dead cat bounce competence, to think that this team will be anything but a club that you stream against all year in daily leagues.

No-hitting any team, at any level, is an accomplishment. It also requires more than a little bit of luck. since any weak contact could just fall in somewhere. But if I had the opportunity to place a prop bet on whether or not the Padres would get blanked again this year... especially in a day game after a night game, at home, in a pitcher's park? I'm making the bet.

And then I'm looking for my odds at it happening twice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Top 10 reasons why Kevin Love wants no part of Cleveland

The Paper In Dan Gilbert's World
10) He's a snob about font choice

9) Somehow doesn't want to tie his career to the new Stephon Marbury, the current Spencer Hawes, the sad broken-down past that is Anderson Vareajo, and whatever Russian-lover they hired to be the coach

8) Isn't seeing Cleveland as much of an upsell from Minneapolis, or being homeless

7) Like other NBA people with a passing relationship with reality, doesn't think LeBron James is coming back any time soon

6) Doesn't buy the idea that they are just going to keep winning the lottery every year they don't make the playoffs, which is to save, every year

5) Somehow isn't thrilled with past top picks Dion Waters, Anthony Bennett, or whatever new dude they curse on Thursday

4) Didn't want to even attempt the "convince free agents to come to Cleveland" conversation

3) After spending an entire career not going to the playoffs, didn't want to go to an entire franchise that doesn't ever go to the playoffs

2) Is unaware than team owner Dan Gilbert's kid has a medical condition, is aware that the team owner is Dan Gilbert

1) Signing with the Cavaliers involves going to Cleveland and playing with the Cavaliers, so, um, you can see why he might want to avoid that

Luis Suarez, Ender of World Cup

Post Bite, Mid Dive
Well, um, it doesn't seem necessary to recap what happened in the World Cup today, because it's got to be in every social media feed on the planet... but on the off chance that FTT is your first source for such things, in we go.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez may be the most notorious futballer on the planet, and lo, that is saying something. In three separate incidents in the past few years, he's been suspended twice for biting, and once for racial invective towards an opponent. For these various offenses, he's been suspended for 25 games in aggregate, and he's in the process of trying to force his team in the English Premier League to sell him, despite being, well, one of the best goal-scorers on the planet.

So on some level, the question is why he was allowed to play in the World Cup in the first place. Hell, given his general behavior, there's a reasonable question as to why he's allowed to walk the streets. But futbol matters a lot on five of six continents, and transcendental goal scorers are rarer than 7-footers with three-point range and handles, so, well, he was in. Even said to be behaving himself now that he's a father, and his performance against England (two touches, two goals, in a 2-1 win that all but eliminated the English hopes) was as good as advertised.

Then, there was today.

Italy just needed a tie to move on, and they are one of the world's best defensive sides. For 50-odd minutes, they pretty much made Suarez invisible, as well as the rest of the Uruguyan side, and even had the better of the meager offensive chances that the game had. Then in the 59th minute, Claudio Marchisio of Italy was sent off due to a reckless play, and, well, it seemed marginal to me. His foot was over the ball, but it was pretty bang-bang, and seemed to merit more of a yellow card than the full ejection. With the man advantage, Uruguay started to get purchase, though the play was pretty even.

Then in the 80th minute, Suarez struck. As an offensive possession was thwarted, Suarez got tangled up with defender Giorgio Chiellini, and brought his head to the defender's neck. Chiellini reacted as if he had been bitten, because as instant replays showed, he had. Suarez completed the pathological behavior by diving to the ground and holding his teeth, as if Chiellini had fouled him.

Now, a small aside. Portugal defender Pepe, almost as much as a reprobate as Suarez, was given a red card in his team's disastrous opener against Germany for much less. Just bringing your head that close, on purpose and away from the play, shows evidence of malicious intent, and no one on the planet argues that Pepe was anything but a justly tossed idiot for his act. There is no arguing with the fact that Suarez merited an immediate red card. He didn't even get the yellow.

Less than a minute later, off a corner kick, Uruguay's Diego Godin headed a ball in as Italy more or less lost their minds over the twin Acts of Referee, and Uruguay had the only lead they would ever have, or need. Italy's out, Uruguay advances, and I couldn't be more disgusted. Oh, and I had a mild preference for Uruguay before this game started, in that I generally root for the team that's lower on the economic totem pole, and Italy's defensive abilities generally make for dull play. (They also have their own wack job striker, but honestly, he's a freaking saint compared to Suarez.)

In the post-game ESPN panel discussion, the general consensus is that Suarez will be suspended for the rest of the World Cup, with more than a few people asking for the only sensible move: a lifetime ban. That's a start. But let's also wonder...

> If you were on the Italian team, or Chiellini, how do you live with the fact that Suarez ended this game on his own two feet?

I get that during the game, you needed to keep your composure and not put your team at the absurd level of 9 vs. 11 by going after the reprobate. But once the final whistle sounded and the Rubicon of elimination had passed, how did that entire team, to a man, not come straight for the psycopath with spikes out? They would have been welcomed home to Italy as heroes, honestly.

The answer, of course, is that everyone involved here is a professional, and isn't going to put themselves at financial risk for future suspension. There's also the possibility that they aren't willing to go to Suarez's level, or that they are just intimidated by the pathology, or just wanted to be away from Brazil as fast as possible. But I gotta say... if I'm Chiellini, I wonder how much my teammates care about me. And if I'm on that team, I'm wondering if I left my manhood in my other shorts.

> FIFA is, of course, one of the most cartoonishly corrupt organizations on the planet. This non-profit (best joke in the history of the blog, that) is sitting on a billion dollars in reserve, inspired riots in the most futbol-happy country on the planet with their rapacity, and treat host country laws like toilet paper.

And they were getting away with it all, even the absurdly corrupt call that gave the host country a win in the first match, because the play has been so damned good. The favorites that were ejected (Spain, England, in all likelihood Portugal) were all from nations that were either defeatist about their chances or sated from recent success. The feel-good stories (Costa Rica, Mexico, Netherlands, Colombia) all seemed fresh and exciting to watch. It was easy to get lost in Game, in the permutations of the next round, and I felt myself just putting on games just for the heck of it. Poor scoring defense-only teams weren't advancing, the officiating wasn't getting in the way of the viewing, and neither were the occasionally questionable conditions.

And now, well, no.

Uruguay is through when they shouldn't be. Italy is gone, with their coach resigning in disgust, and had enough quality to have gone much further. The fact that Honduras is the only Latin or South American team to be eliminated now seems conspiratorial, rather than a home-continent feel-good phenomenon. Suarez's post-game interview, in which he said the bite marks were faked and things happen in the box, betray a sociopath that, well, other teams just should not have to deal with. Banning him seems inevitable, which means that Uruguay's supporters will deify him, which means that this ugliness isn't going away any time soon. No one's talking about Greece's last minute escape into the knockout round over the Ivory Coast, or how gamely the Japanish fought, or, well, anything other than the cannibalistic futballer.

As I write this, FIFA has charged Suarez with biting. The penalty is for at least two matches, which would be issued before the next game, and even opens up the possibility that he'll come back in time to help Uruguay compete for a championship. That seems insane, of course, until you remember this is FIFA, and they worship money, and ratings, and goal scoring, all of which would be here in abundance with a Suarez return later in the tournament. Think Tonya Harding, only in a sport the whole world cares too much about.

And this all dwarfs the rest of the event, and that's freaking terrible.

Honestly, I kind of not want to watch this any more.

Because in one moment of pathology, this stopped being about Game, and started being only about a maniac, and how he didn't only get away with it, but helped his team win by doing it.

How are you supposed to go on watching, without needing to take a shower in your mind?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh Noes, The U.S. Is Being Rooted On By Americans

So I made the mistake today of reading one of those contrary Slate clickbait pieces of instant dumbness, this one from the ground in Brazil, where the writer described the phenomenon of Road U.S. Fan making Neutral Brazilian Fans root for Ghana with their sheer numbers and vociferousness. This led the writer to make the point that Americans are no longer severe underdogs in world futbol, so if we ever win this game, it's going to be one more moment of us taking something that the world needs so much, much more.

Yes, I told you it was a mistake.

Here's a central truth of all sporting events: Demonstrative Road Fan is never loved by the locals. Sure, the restaurants and hotels and hookers might be happy when these people come to town and spend the cash, and DRF is easy to take in small numbers... but as soon as these folks get numerous enough to take over your yard, the cuteness factor drops to zero.

Oh, and do you know what it would mean to the rest of the world if the U.S. somehow put together the run of their lives and bring home the cup? After about a week or so, nothing. Maybe a few more kids grow up wanting to stay with the sport, or the advertising community throws more money at FIFA (oh dear), or MLS gets a few more paying fans and keeps a few more players, but there is no Sudden Age of U.S. Futbol Dominance.

It's a game. It has winners and losers and is a lot of fun to watch because it's a game, but the greater ramifications of What It All Means is always a mistake and overestimated. I'm glad that the U.S. feels supported in Brazil, and that more of my countrymen and women are traveling abroad, because the U.S. players seem like decent enough mercenaries, and travel broadens the mind. But you really don't need to make this bigger than it is, because it's plenty big enough already. Check out the TV ratings, which had more sets watching U.S. v. Portugal than the World Series or NBA Finals (and, um, that's inevitable, because those sports are regional, and no team has a true national audience).

Game is enough. Everything else, the Not Game, is useful for raising crops, and not much else. Always is, always has been, always will be. Moving on.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

U.S. vs. Portugal: Glorious Futility

So, World Cup. After falling behind early on a defensive mistake, then failing to get the tying goal for the rest of the first half, the U.S. stormed back behind a great power kick goal from outside the box by Jermaine Jones, then a go-ahead tally by Patrick Dempsey. On the literally last play of the game in stoppage time, Portugal star Christian Renaldo had his only good moment of the tournament to date, sending a perfect cross to Varela, who scored on a beautiful header to tie it.

It is, of course, not a bad result for the U.S., who remain more likely than not to move on to the next round. A win or a tie against Germany, who looked like world beaters against Portugal in the opening game and just good against Ghana in the second game, would get them through. They would even get through with a loss, if Portugal beats Ghana, but not by enough to get over their goal differential from the disastrous opener against Germany. There's all kinds of good things to take away from this game, not the least of which is the fact that this might have been one of the best games the U.S. ever played at the World Cup, Portugal is very, very fortunate to still be alive, and when "alive" consists of needing  a winner (much more likely Germany) in one game, and a huge win of their own against a Ghanian side that's more alive than they are, that's telling.

But, well, if only for one less minute of stoppage time, the U.S. would already be in, and Portugal would already be out. So the question is whether the Yanks can get over the thunder strike disappointment of not getting the win, and...

Nothing I've just written here is in anyway revelatory, or anything you weren't already thinking, assuming you've spent any time thinking about this at all.

That's the thing about futbol to me; it's primacy. There's no such thing as a moral victory here; the U.S. is a mid-range team in a tournament where the top dogs usually crush, and have all of the advantages. They aren't supposed to get out of this group; looking ahead to the probable matchups from Group H against Belgium or Algeria, those look much more manageable than what's in group. And it seems insane that, well, Ghana could get through while the U.S. wouldn't, after losing head to head, or that Portugal could somehow survive after being a minute away from elimination, or that Germany, freaking multiple championship and takes futbol more seriously than we ever will, is guaranteed of nothing after two games.

The only thing that we're certain of is that the U.S. has played two of the most exciting games in the World Cup, and that they aren't getting embarrassed by some of the best the world has to offer. And that, on Thursday, we're all going to be staring daggers into our screen of choice, and hoping that the teams just agree to tap the ball back and forth to each other at midfield for 90 minutes, since both clubs advance with a tie, and it would just about have to end FIFA forever in a hailstorm of corruption that dwarfs the minds of men.

Well, OK, that last part is probably just me. But you get the point, right?

The Primal Foot

These People Seem To Like It
So I've been watching more than a little of the World Cup for the past week and a half. The nice part about it is that it rewards any level of interest. You can just have it on in the background and look up when the announcers get excited, or you can fully buy in and work out some rooting interest based on, well, whatever reason you like to enjoy a country or not. Someone's got a friend who is from Ghana? Well, go Black Stars, assuming they aren't playing the U.S. The Nigerians look plucky, and African sides don't usually make it real far, so yay, Super Eagles. Wait, the Bosnia-Herzegovians are called the Dragons? I may have to rethink this. And so on.

There's also this. The Shooter Kids don't really give a damn about sports. I don't watch them with them, and while I think they can tell one from another, it's really pretty much an open question as to whether they'll be able to tell basketball apart from football or baseball. They are much more like their mom than me on this one, and the only way they are staying in the room with me if the game is on is if it's almost over, or they are trying to openly avoid someone else in the house. I'm a writer, and the TV is in my basement cave. They've got tablets ad laptops and a million better ideas to entertain themselves than to look at my screen, assuming my screen isn't showing them something they are interested in.

And then there was today, and the World Cup.

Ghana played Germany today, and the second half of it was flat-out great. End to end action, four total goals scored, Ghana coming back from giving up the first one to take a lead, only to lose it to Germany late, both sides with opportunities to get the win late. The Shooter Wife was mesmerized. No second screen, no questions about the rules, no getting up to find knitting, a snack, or anything other than the primal moment of Ghana, the team her best friend is rooting for due to genealogy, trying to get the win. I've been married to this person for 15 years, have brought her to baseball and basketball games, have had games on when she's walked into the room a few thousand times. Never saw that before.

Later in the day, the Eldest comes downstairs. The game was Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina, and since there was just 15 minutes left and the game was close, I had her wait until the end of the game until I gave up the screen to her and her sister. And within five minutes, because Nigeria had irritated her with timewaste tactics to try and hold their 1-0 lead, she was fully invested and bent when B-H got close but not quite to the tying goal. And while it's not as if she took the defeat very hard, but it was still more than any investment I've ever seen from her, even when I've been watching a game with high investment.

So what is it about futbol, really? Well, it helps immensely that they aren't asking me questions about why something happened, or what the rules are, every few minutes. This game is downright primal in its Good Event or Bad Event experience, and the clear and non-stopping ticking clock in the top left also gives everyone involved a clear indication of just how much longer they are going to have to invest in this. No commercial stoppages is huge, especially to the younger generation of people for whom ads have always been something you can skip or switch off.

Now, I don't think there's going to be much more to it than this, really. I doubt that we're going to do the hopelessly hipster move of picking a Premier League team to support, or rooting for the Union or the Red Bulls. I am a long way past the event horizon of adding new sports to my viewing list, and considering the size of my Netflix queue, and the fact that parenting is not something you move away from just because the kids are getting old enough to do things on their own.

But there's still something telling that this sport reaches them, in a way that no other has. And if you've been giving it all a big miss because well, it's soccer and you've tried it before, it's time to look at it again. This is the highest-scoring World Cup in history, and people from six continents are into this in ways you can barely imagine. I'm not asking you to like it more than other sports, but for a few weeks in the summer dead zone, it's a freaking godsend.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Joel Embiid Situation: Which History Repeats Itself?

Slip Sliding Away
So we've got a mild consensus big man for the top pick in the NBA Draft, but there are health issues. Scared off by the specter of Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Andrew Bynum and every other 7-footer who breaks down, team after team shies away from the best player available...

And that's how the Sixers wound up with Nerlens Noel with the 6th pick in the draft, who I'm pretty sure no one would trade for Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller or Alex Len right about now. Victor Oladipo might be a decent swap at #2, and lo, it was a terrible draft, but I'm thrilled with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie for avoiding all of those guys, and winding up with Noel at six and Michael Carter-Williams at 11. (Seven through ten, for the masochists, were Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum.)

Today, of course, Sixer Fan is aghast at the horror that is Kansas center, Hakeem Olajuwon comp and sudden foot surgery patient Joel Embiid becoming the new Can't Draft This guy, because this was clearly the guy we didn't want (in that he's too similar to Noel), and it's just going to raise the price on the guy we do want (shockingly athletic shooting guard Andrew Wiggins).

Now, a point in passing: I desperately want the Sixers to get Wiggins. He's already on my keeper fantasy league team, in a masterwork of sneaky behavior in the end moments of last year's draft, when the league's owners were unaware that you could draft a guy who wasn't in the league. (My karma from such a move was so bad that I overcame Derrick Rose's explosion to finish second to the guy that's so loaded, he barely needs to show up to the draft.) And yet... I just can't freak out about this just yet.

First off, there are the teams picking ahead of the Sixers. There's Cleveland, who keep getting the first pick of the draft, and haven't seemed to do anything very good with it yet. Put me on the fence as to how good Kyrie Irving is. so far, he just looks like Stephon Marbury II to me. And the less said about last year's surprise choice, UNLV forward Bennett, the better; pretty sure there's never been a top pick with DNP-CDs by his name quite so often in the rookie year. It doesn't seem possible to bone this pick, and yet, well, it's Cleveland. The club that couldn't win with LeBron James, couldn't get anything for him prior to free agency, and then salted the earth with comic sans petulance for the ages, ensuring that no free agent worth a damn will ever want to go there. Hope springs eternal that they'll bone it.

After the Cavs, it's Milwaukee, the team with the actual worst record in the NBA last year, in a season where they were *not* tanking. No, I'm serious. The club that thought the missing piece to a playoff roster that depended highly on Ersan Ilyanova showing up consistently, the team that thought Larry Sanders would try just as hard once he had money in his pocket, the club that was sure Caron Butler would be the missing piece after years of decay in the hyper-stacked Clipper lineup, with a bench that's so bad these guys played in front of them... well, they make the second pick. If you were at a poker game, and the Cavs and Bucks were in your blind, you are loving your table. Doesn't matter who else is there, or what your cards look like.

Finally, there's this. There were three good players in the first eleven picks of the 2013 draft. Sam Hinkie got two of them (and yes, I'm assuming Noel will be good). He turned Jrue Holliday, instantly injury-prone once he got out of town and about to get really expensive assuming he's got any kind of per-game numbers, into the #3 pick in one of the more stacked drafts in recent NBA history. Even if he stands pat and takes a guy that probably won't help them very much next year (I'm thinking Embiid or Australian PG enigma Dante Exum, or even PF Noah Vonleh from Indiana), that's a winning trade. At the 10 pick, assuming once again that they stand pat, I think they'll wind up with something from the enticing range of F Julius Randle from Kentucky, SG Nik Stauskas from Michigan, PF Dario Saric from Croatia, or PF Aaron Gordon from Arizona. All of those guys are going to have NBA careers, and all of them look a lot better then the slugs that populated the non-Sixer picks in 2013. They also have five second round picks and a roster so thin that several of those guys might actually pan out, along with Iranian rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi, and the potentially useful rehab experience that is Jason Richardson. Put that together with some of the potentially useful flotsam from the end of last year (James Anderson, Jarvis Varnado, Henry Sims) and the long-suffering Thaddeus Young, and that's an immensely more appealing roster than what was here just two years ago. As tear-downs go, this has been quick and evidencing A Plan.

So, am I thrilled that Embiid is hurt? Hell and no. I was really hoping that the Cavs would take him, especially as they were said to love him, and *then* he'd get hurt, with the Bucks jumping on the NBA-ready and Duke-ceiling capped level of Jabari Parker. But what I know about these guys is what I've learned from the highly suspect NBA media, and they are getting their information from franchises that would be actively penalized for telling the truth. If Hinkie decides that he's OK with rolling the dice on Embiid at 3, well, he knows more than I do. If he flips the script and goes for Exum, that's a pretty exciting backcourt, and the way that the NBA is now, maybe that's the best way to build. Short of trading down to load up on more second round picks, or going all-in on some obvious dead-ended like Carmelo Anthony, in Sam We Trust.

So, disconsolate Sixer Fan? Breathe. Relax. Wiggins is not necessarily the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Embiid is not necessarily the new Oden or Bowie or Bynum, and 7-footers don't always stay hurt. If the club winds up with him, it could easily be the second straight year where the club winds up with the best big man in the draft. Hell, even if they wind up with Parker, there have been good players from Duke, and his skill set works well in terms of creating an entertaining team.

He made a trade last year that no one is complaining about, in re Holliday. He also got rid of Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner for anything at all, and nothing in their post-Sixer play showed this to be a bad move. He drafted Michael Carter-Williams at 11, in a draft that looks worse with every passing day.

In short, he's earned your trust.

So... just ignore everything that happens between now and the draft, and check out what Hinkie does then. It's all you can do anyway.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Top 10 ways the Spurs celebrated their championship

Wear the same shirt, say Woo
10) Only translated the proceedings into some of the languages their players speak

9) Watched all of Gregg Popovich's sideline playoff interview answers on Vine

8) As per Tim Duncan's demands, raised the roof, but in an architecturally sound manner after receiving proper zoning paperwork

7) Boris Diaw and Tony Parker laughed at some of those obvious Frenchie jokes they've heard a few million times, all while secretly pondering the meaninglessness of existence

6) Paddy Mills prepared for his JJ Barea-esque lucrative and forgettable future as an overpaid out-of-town benchie with a ring

5) Kawhi Leonard allowed, and scandalously even encouraged, to drink adult beverages

4) Support staff, along with the rest of San Antonio, extended their Cheat Month to a Cheat Quarter

3) Manu Ginobili accepted contact without falling down theatrically

2) Allowed each member of the team to walk right up to the table and eat without passing salt, pepper, bread or side dishes

1) Took the entire morning off before getting back to practice

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The World Cup Epiphany, Or Oh, What A Lovely Holy War

Excommunicated
So I had a mild and probably obvious epiphany today while watching the World Cup. Indulge me, or not.

It was during the South Korea - Russia match, a 1-1 tie where the Koreans scored on a terrible bobble by the keeper, then the Russians got the goal back to salvage the tie. As the cameras panned the stands to find traveling loyalists in facepaint, I realized that what was a trailing diversion and cheap source of humor (in that Vladimir Putin was sure to do something Bondvillainish to the poor keeper's family) for me was life and death to the people in the stands... and that wasn't a moment to get snotty or superior.

Rather, this was, in all likelihood, the game that they watched when they were eight years old or so, otherwise known as the age of declaration. Think back to your own life, and I bet that the teams that you rooted for then are the ones you root for now. That's certainly the case for me, on two of four teams, and it took active deprogramming to stop caring about the Philadelphia Flyers (and hockey) and Philadelphia Phillies (and for a long time, baseball).

Here comes the impertinence: I bet that for many of us, this is when we became identified with a religious affiliation. This isn't to demean your choice, or to cause anyone to question their faith. Whatever gets you through the night, so long as you don't harm someone else on their own journey. You might get a lot out of your faith, just as you might get a lot out of your laundry affiliation; similarly, you might feel victimized by this choice, if you've spent decades paying for tickets or tithing without any sense of payoff. It's really up to you.

But to me, the corollaries go deeper. There are people in this world who want to talk about that South Korea - Russia game to distraction, and if you are one of those people, you really need to find other members of the congregation, fast. We all dream of having others join our group due to its overwhelming success, while simultaneously hoping to keep the same intimacy and comfort that was there before the congregation got big. After all, we were here during the lean years, when the sun wasn't shinning and there was nothing in the nature of redemption promised or delivered.

OK, yes, the analogy is strained. But doesn't it hit at the core of why people get so irritated with futbol proselytizers, especially when they tell us how beautiful or clever their game is, and by extension, ours is not? We didn't have this in the mix when we were eight. we can tolerate it, even like it for all sorts of non-game reasons (architecture, artwork, tradition, pageantry, etc., etc.)... but we're never going to feel it in the gut, take a loss to the soul and mourn it for a week or more, see the fateful moment when it all went wrong in our nightmares and on other team's all-time highlight reels. In baseball, I was on the wrong side of the Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter home runs, along with Derek Jeter's flip, and any number of other gutpunch moments. Other members of my congregations feel my pain.

Oh, and one final point on this before I put it to bed... this is also why people freak out over this game so much. I've got games and seasons coming out the wazoo here, with one sport almost always overlapping another. Futbol Fan doesn't, especially World Cup Futbol Fan; he's going to wait years, and maybe decades, for redemption. My sports spread out the pain over multiple game series in baseball and basketball, and it's unlikely that any singular moment is going to be the only reason why it goes south. You can ease into the pain. Futbol? Other than a first half blowout that just rubs your nose in it for an hour or more, not so much. My sports have hundreds of scoring opportunities that aren't necessarily going away due to the opinion of a ref that, history shows, really might not be on the up and up. Put it all together, and the story becomes not why futbol fan riots, but why it doesn't happen all the damned time.

So have some pity for futbol fan. He's not watching a sport, he's watching a religious war. That only happens once every four years, and matters more than any of your laundry does to you. And probably always will.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

U.S. v. Ghana, Or The Levee Breaks, And Then Reappears

Dempsey, Early, With A Good Nose
Every four years, the World Cup comes around to remind casual U.S. sports fans how much fun it is to watch an ad-free, continuous action game of unrelenting tension. It's especially good when it distracts us from the game we don't watch anymore (baseball) as we wait for the game that we watch too much (American football).

And so it has been this year, and the magical thing has been that just about every game has been fun to watch. Well, OK, not Iran-Nigeria; that was everything that's wrong with this game in spades. But you get the gist, and so far, that's the only tie of the tournament. There's been a lot of scoring, not so much awful officiating outside of the Brazil game, comebacks and no riots or stadium failures. As good as you can hope for, really.

Today's US 2-1 win over Ghana was, well, a game script you've never seen before. Clint Dempsey scored one of the fastest goals in World Cup history, a nifty little bit of sleight of foot and post banging that was flat out gorgeous. Gradually over the rest of the first half, Ghana got the better of play, especially once strike Jozy Altidore went down with a horrible looking hamstring pull, then Dempsey damn near got his nose broken on a kick to the fact that somehow didn't draw a serious penalty to the Ghana side. Defender Matt Besler was next to go with another hamstring problem, and the game was looking increasingly more essential, as the squad was melting in the Brazilian heat and humidity. New coach Jurgen Klinsmanm subbed in people no one has ever heard of (Stupid German! Where's our Landon Donovan security blanket!), and the Black Stars (their name, not mine) seemed to control every ball, with only goaltender Tim Howard standing between them and a tie or worse.

Now, regardless of your familiarity with the sport at hand, you've seen this game. Underdog team takes a lucky early lead, players get hurt, they turtle up and cling to a lead for all they are worth. Either they escape or lose that lead, and if they lose it, that's it. The air is out of the balloon, the jig is up, and their fans try to talk themselves into moral victory noise or call for some goat's head. (Klinsman for leaving Donovan behind! Howard, for tragically leaving the short post open...)

What doesn't happen is a stunning and damned near immediate response goal. What doesn't happen is getting that stunning and damned near immediate response goal from one of those anonymous rookie subs, in this case 20-year-old John Brooks, converting a corner kick opportunity with a picture-perfect spiking header. Oh, and it's Brooks' first goal, and he was set up by some guy named Graham Zusi, another sub who came in due to injury and infirmity.

And just like that, the U.S. flipped the deck and has a 2 to 1 chance of escaping the so-called Group of Death, especially now that Portugal is a smoking ruin after a 4-0 flattening by the Germans, accented by a red card suspension for a starting fullback. 85% of the teams that win their opener advance in the current format, and while it's not out of the realm of possibility that the US could be in that sad 15%, the chance would have been much worse without Brooks' miracle.

And, well, the natural tendency of fans, especially of niche sports like futbol in America, is to look to moments like this as the spark that starts a new era. But that's not how it works, really. The U.S. did not become dominant in ice hockey after the Winter Olympics in 1960, or 1980. Women's soccer did not become a big deal after Brandy Chastain scored and disrobed. The WNBA didn't explode after women started dunking. Any number of niche Olympic moments were nice and then passed under the waves, without us starting to give big media numbers to weight lifting or Greco-Roman wrestling or volleyball or whatever.

No, what matters is when you have that moment, and then another, and then another. Or when those moments turn into people going to games at the lower level. The U.S. has had pro soccer for decades now, intermittently but with an increasing amount of frequency. That's where Zusi plies his trade, rather than for some Euro team; roughly half of the team work there. If the US makes a run that translates into more ratings for Kansas City, Seattle, San Jose and Salt Lake in MLS, and more plus athletes staying with the game into their teen years, that's when the spark is more than a treasured memory. For now, it's just fun to see a game end in a way you've never really seen, and a team that that does the incredibly rare and wonderful thing of making damn near everyone mark out for the flag.

The next game is Sunday against the wounded animal of Portugal, and that's going to be difficult even if Altidore and Beasley are healthy. But that's for another day, and another chance at a spark... with more people watching, on the weekend.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Spurs Round Up: I Guess They Aren't Boring Anymore

The Way To Be
Here's something that's going to sound really react- ionary: the 2013-14 Spurs might be the best team in NBA history.

No, seriously.

Let's break it down. The coach, no one's arguing with; five titles in fifteen years in an era of free agency and salary caps is world-class, and that's a simple statement of fact. Tim Duncan is the best power forward of his generation, and the biggest winner now, passing Kobe Bryant. Tony Parker is one of the best point guards of his era, and Manu Ginobili one of the best off-guards. And none of those guys were the MVP of the Finals; that honor, of course, went to Kawhi Leonard.

It's easy to see how there were better than last year's Spurs team, and that outfit was a famous three-point miracle away from winning in six. It seems pretty obvious that this team would have beaten that Heat club, just on the basis of this year's Ginobili being so much better than last year's. (Looking further, consider how much better Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills were compared to 2012-13.)

Do they beat the 2011 Mavs? Well, um, yes; that club rode the last good moments of Jason Kidd, the best work ever by Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler; not exactly a generation-shattering collection of talent. The Kobe/Gasol/Odom Lakers would have been a very difficult task, especially with Phil Jackson's ability to get the better of Popovich much more than most, but that club had real trouble guarding the three-point line against Boston, and the Spurs shoot it better from the arc than Boston did. This brings us back to the Garnett/Allen/Pierce Celtics, and that's a pretty great series battle of who can dictate tempo. I still take the Spurs, though. And now we're back into earlier Spurs teams, or the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or the Pistons, and the game is just too different now with the three-point shots and the international talent, and so on. I know everyone wants to canonize the Jordan Bulls, especially any time anyone compares James to His Airness, but the game is just so different now; much less with hard fouls, much more with movement and three point shooting. If the game is played under 2014 rules, I take this Spurs team to beat anybody.

The biggest reason why? Look at what they did to their competition. The beating that they just put on the Heat was historic. You just rarely see the Finals going to a blowout as often as this did, and the simple fact of the matter is that when Leonard wasn't in foul trouble, they were dramatically better. Tonight, they were up 20 before Parker made a bucket. The Heat couldn't keep separation even after playing their best ball of the season, because the Spurs' depth was just of such quality.

And this wasn't even their most one-sided win in the playoffs.

That honor went to Portland, who got run out of the building in a series that was like this one, in that the longer it went, the more pronounced the beating became. They handled a Thunder team that might have had the best two players on the floor, seemingly had turned the series around after getting back Serge Ibaka, and spent a good chunk of that series without a healthy Parker. The only real problem they had was in the first round, when Dallas took them to the limit, and even that required some pretty damned lucky shots before the Game 7 beatdown.

There's also, of course, everything else. The NBA is frequently boiled down to Heroball. The Spurs don't do that. (With the possible exception of what Duncan did to the Thunder in overtime.) You can frequently predict a series by just going with Team With The Best Player Wins; that's not the Spurs, either. This is a league where coaches are hired out or their uniforms because they were heady point guards, and teams fire Coach of the Year winners within 18 months on average, as soon as they don't get out of the second or third round. Dear Lord in Heaven, the Spurs don't do that at all. Rather than blowing up their aging nucleus, they simply cut their minutes, avoided a player revolt, and got useful contributions from a bewildering array of options. Stars get yelled at. Benchies get fourth quarter minutes if they are better that night. The ball moves, gloriously, consistently, and at speeds that no other team can match or defend. And finally, as the series went on and Leonard got more and more comfortable, they even got good on defense.

If you defend the arc, they penetrate and make. If you have a rim protector, they make shots in mid-range, a lost art in the NBA. (Watch that Houston - Portland series for clarification.) If the starters fall behind, they pull them. No player gets to take them out of the game with an 8-for-30 night because he's The Star. No player gets to conserve his energy for offense, because all five guys can score. Players come here and get better, more conditioned (especially Diaw and Mills), and overcome adversity. I'm thinking primarily of Splitter, posterized for the ages by James last year, stuffing Wade in one of a dozen Clinch Definition moments in tonight's game. And that guy's had his minutes go up and down at Popovich's whim, without pouting.

It's incredibly inspiring, really.

I don't root for the Spurs and never have; I'm a Sixers fan. But by watching this series, I don't have to put all of my hopes that the upcoming draft class has to have a Magic Duncan for my team to be good. Instead, they could find talent from all over the globe, coach them up, keep them together over the years, hire the right coach and spread the minutes to a bunch of useful role players. And absolutely run away with a championship.

That never used to work, and even when it seemed to, it was only in a power vacuum, until some new Jordan or Bryant or Shaq or James came along to end you with his star power. The Spurs have shown the world a better way to build a team, and a better way to play basketball; it's as if the Webber/Divac Kings had beaten the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. (These Spurs are much more mentally tough and better on defense than those Kings teams, of course.) And even if they fall apart with injuries or age or complacency next year, and even if Popovich and Duncan and Parker and Ginobili all decide to walk away, that should stick.

But honestly? I don't think they are going anywhere. If there's an easier situation to be a star player than what the Spurs have got going right now, I haven't seen it. No one seems to be looking for more numbers, chafing under Popovich, looking for endorsement deals, or in any way angry about any damned thing at all. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili might play 50 regular season games next year and be even more ready for the playoffs, with the club still holding a 2 or 3 seed.

You've got hot weather, you're the only team in town, you've got interesting teammates from all walks of life, and you play historically great and beautiful ball. Why would anyone want to leave this?

And more importantly, why would anyone want to make any other kind of team?

The Heat Round Up: Same Beating Next Year

2-3 In The Finals
Here's the problem with winning: it's never enough. Win once, can you repeat? If not, it was a fluke. Win twice, well, the threepeat is the true definition of a great team. Win three, everyone hates you and thinks you're old and yada, yada, yada. And so it goes for history's least-loved great team, the Miami Heat, who have been to four straight Finals but have only won two, and just got beaten down by historic levels in this round by a Spurs team that (shh!) might have been one of the best teams in NBA history. (More on that in another post.)

As an aside, I take offense at just how much people delight in the Heat's loss -- and no, I'm not a Heat fan, and have never been. There are Cleveland hoop fans in my Twitter feed, and you would have thought that tonight's loss erased the Heat's two titles, and that the Spurs have moved to Ohio. You people are losers. LeBron was right to leave; he's got two rings now, and didn't spend his entire basketball life toiling for the Quicken Loans Comic Sans Idiot.

Also -- there is no "right" way to build a franchise. Guys taking less money to play with a winning organization is not evidence of wrestling heel-like cowardly behavior, unless they happen to be doing that for laundry that you do not root for. The idea that a championship team needs to be loved beyond their borders is insanity. Stop treating sports like pro wrestling, with designated heels and babyfaces; it makes everyone sound like they are 12 years old, and demeans a beautiful game. Moving on.


Back to the Heat. They still have advantages, of course. Anyone who really thinks that James is going to leave the closet thing to an automatic annual ticket to the Finals by leaving the East is smoking something that's only now legal in a few states, and they have a reasonable coaching situation, good home crowd (well, at least when they are winning), no state income tax and so on. There is no second-best team in the East that is going to improve themselves so dramatically as to stop Trip Number Five next June, assuming that they stay relatively healthy. But as this Spurs series show, they really aren't good enough, and probably wouldn't have gotten out of the second round, and maybe even the first, if they played in the West.

So what happens next? Well, everyone thinks they'll go after Carmelo Anthony under the concept that Stars Attract Stars, and as little of a fan as I am of Melo's me-first game. there's no denying that he'd help. If Miami isn't going to get to Spur-like ball movement and dead-eye three-point shooting, being able to get to the line and break up runs with a post game would help, and Anthony can do that. The Heat also just spent most of the regular season trying to manage Dwayne Wade's minutes so that he'd be better in the Finals, and that didn't work at all. Unlike previous years, they don't have a whole lot of hope that Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers are going to get a lot better, and despite the small moments that Michael Beasley showed them in Game Five, no one really thinks he's going to be anything more than a bench scoring vagabond. They also need a gritty 4 who can actually still play (unlike Udonis Haslem), a 3-point shooting 2 who can go for more than five minutes at a time (unlike Ray Allen), and a 5 who isn't an offensive liability who can block shots and rebound (unlike Greg Oden and Chris Anderson).

What they do works in the East, because the East does not have elite level point guards and long-term passing monster teams that make their defensive pressure meaningless... and, well, this isn't a style where you can grow old gracefully. James is the best player on the planet, but he's not getting better, and in another 1 to 3 years, that crown might go to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldrige, Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard. Or maybe even a guy in their own conference.

There are other ways to go than to chase Melo. Going after PG Kyle Lowery of Toronto, fresh off a series that clearly spiked his value, might help them get easier makes on offense. If Kevin Love is serious about chasing wins with his next team, he'd be fantastic for them, and probably make Chris Bosh better, since he wouldn't have to keep trying to be something he's not. Even small beer moves, like what Dallas did to bring in Monta Ellis and Sam Dalembert, or the Warriors with Andre Iguodala, would make this team so much more dangerous than, well, Haslem and Anderson and Beasley and Odom. There will be other names, and until the league changes, there will always be teams trying to tank and shed useful assets. Hell, Thaddeus Young would have helped loads in this series.

Basically, Miami just tried to win a threepeat with three above-average starters. That really shouldn't happen. And no one has ever accused Pat Riley of being insufficiently ruthless. There are at least a half dozen guys on the Heat bus tonight that won't be with this club in October. It's not like they have the excuse of not breaking up the band.

And the fact that they got to the Finals with relative ease, and did so while avoiding winter and income tax in a town with beautiful women?

Trust me, James isn't going anywhere.

The only question is who's coming to town to join him.

And whether they'll be good enough to close the immense gap from the Best of the West that was shown in these Finals. On that last point? I have some serious doubts. More on that later.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Heat - Spurs Game Five Takeaways: Follow Someone Else's Lead

This Is My Happy Face
Prior to tonight's game, the hype machine was about how someone has to be the first team to come back from 3-1 down, but the fact that the Spurs spent the last two games whistling "Sweet Georgia Brown" on Miami's home court did not inspire confidence. In any event, there's no more pro hoop before Halloween, so let's get into this one with too much detail in the Takeaways...

> LeBron James tells his teammates to follow his lead by saying inspiring things in front of a live mic

> Ray Allen in for Miami, which would be fine if he were a point guard or young

> Dwayne Wade with the first make, and that's encouraging for drama's sake

> Allen with a strip leading to a James flush, and Miami looks much more energetic early

> Tim Duncan with a miss of a too-open shot, and then Tony Parker does the same, and hmm...

> Actual nastiness in a floor melee -- interesting

> Duncan campaigns and does not get a call, followed by a James flush, and it's 8-0 for the road team

> Manu Ginobili in early and misses, James with a 3 coming back, and wow, the Spurs aren't moving the ball well

> Kawhi Leonard with the first make of the game, a three, with five minutes in -- big shot to stop the bleeding

> Rashard Lewis with a 3 with Chris Bosh driving and oddly dishing when defended by Parker

> Miami's on the ball pressure is just night and day from Games 3 and 4, but it takes a lot of energy to play this way

> James with absurd separation speed past Ginobili for another transition hoop, and the Spurs are yelling at refs, never a good sign

> 19-5 after six minutes is not exactly according to the script that said this was over

> Gregg Popovich goes to the subs, as is he is want to do when the starters do not produce

> James' second block of the game is crazy athletic

> Allen with a three, and he's your designated savior so far

> Ginobili with the old-school three to answer, a lifeline

> Shane Battier and Manu Ginobili get into some awkward weirdness as both men try to flop first

> Patty Mills playing downright disrespectul defense on Allen, leading to a miss and a Leonard three to cut the lead to 7

> Allen misses again and again, and it's telling that Miami is going down with the old guys that used to help

> Mills gets a soft roll in 3, 12-0 Spurs run, and this all feels inevitable

> James with an absurd end of clock 30-footer to stop the bleed

> Norris Cole in for Mario Chalmers, and wow, how the mediocre have fallen

> James with two makes, and that's 17 and 6 in 10 minutes - ye gads

> Danny Green with the transition 3 miss in the 2-for-1 choice, and that shot was going down earlier in the series

> Cole gets bailed out by the refs, and feel free to start thinking conspiratorial thoughts

> Leonard draws the second on Battier, who looks all kinds of spent

> James misses from 30, amazingly, and it's 29-22 Heat after the first

> As better as the Heat looked in the first, it's really asking a lot for James to be this absurdly good for 11 more quarters to suck out a series win

> Boris Diaw with the great pass and flush for Leonard to start the second, and it's telling that the Heat stars are in during what is usually benchie time

> Leonard over James to cut it to 3, and yeah, Young Buck's a coming

> Wade with a long make, and they need a lot more of that

> Green with another open corner miss, and that sort of thing is going to keep Miami hoping

> Chris Anderson ends a Parker drive, and that's shot blocking the Heat haven't had all series

> Parker now 0 for his first 6, not exactly his usual standard

> Green misses from five feet, and it's kind of amazing that the Spurs are only down 7 while shooting this badly

> James tries to pass rather than drive on Duncan, leading to a turnover -- telling

> Bosh misses the too-open 3 with no Heat player in any position to get a board, also known as why I hate it when 4's shoot 3's

> Duncan shakes Udonis Haslem, because, um, that should always happen

> Wade draws on Belinelli, and gets both to fall, which hasn't been the case very often in the dotage of his career

> Haslem blocks Duncan, but Timmy's got enough wherewithal to get a miss on the rim to continue the possession, leading to a Belinielli deuce -- um, he's heady and stuff

> Duncan owns Hawlem again, cutting the lead to 3, and no, Erik Spoelstra, your spirit animal can't play against Duncan

> Allen with the offensive foul turnover, leading to the old-school Duncan three to tie it, but Timmy misses the FT

> Spur defense picking up fast, as James drives and can't finish; Leonard's answering three is the Spurs' first lead

> Really did not think San Antonio could play this level of defense

> Mills with a killshot three, but it stays out

> Lewis with an airball from the corner three, and he's spent

> Ginobili with the super-pretty drive and reverse, and that's another Heat timeout

> Wade with a cheap shot push-off that Mills sells it for all that he's worth

> Miami with six points in nine minutes of the second quarter, and that's Game Four all over again

> Bosh misses the open three, Ginobili skies to make the lead seven, and seriously, no one knew he could still do that

> James with a fade and make to stop a 14-0 run

> Miami's defense worse now, and Ginobili makes the heat check three

> Bench scoring is 22-2 Spurs, and yup, that's kind of important

> James misses and makes at the line to cut it to 7

> Diaw misses an easy floater, Wade gets one to roll in, back to 5

> Diaw's drive and make goes this time, easy ball movement, unlike the first quarter

> James misses the 3, Parker misses to go 0 for 7, but San Antonio is so complete, they are still up 7

> Spurs getting the o-boards now as well -- fresh legs

> Diaw misses the 3, and the half ends Spurs 47-40, 25-11 in the second

> Any hope that Miami would use the break to get their legs and defensive ball pressure back left pretty quickly

> Leonard with the continuing rise and rush, and it's really getting hard to see the fourth quarter being meaningful

> Splitter with a signature block on Wade, and that had to taste good after last year

> Mills with the killshot three after that play, and the series may have just ended

> Bosh with a temporary reprieve make before Mills again hits

> Ginobili three, the lead is 21, and that will be all, Mr. James

> Chalmers and Michael Beasley in, and that's the essence of desperation right there

> Two makes by Miami gives Popovich the excuse he needs for the angry timeout

> Mills makes at the end of the clock to foil good Miami defense and keep the celebration going

> Leonard makes and the lead's back to 21 as Beasley travels

> Credit to Bosh for still fighting the good fight, even while ESPN is giving us a lesson in Aboriginal land rights

> Chalmers to the line and the lead is back down to 17, or at least would be if Mills can ever stop making open threes

> Duncan over James, who replies with a three right back

> Beasley with a nice play on Parker, but James can't keep making threes

> Parker finally gets in the scoring column in the waning moments of the third, and this really should be a full runaway by now

> James makes two, now has 27, and the Spurs lead by 19; Spurs 77, Heat 58, and if this isn't over, I'm an airplane

> Five words from Pop in the interview, he's the best

> Spurs force a 24-second violation to start the fourth, and, um, wow

> Spur crowd outraged over an out of bounds, because they are just that fully invested

> Nice and one from Beasley, which is probably going to make Popovich throw a chair; he misses the FT, of course

> James with the board, speed outlet to Chalmers, who makes and gets Leonard's fifth -- as good a sequence as Miami could hope for

> Leonard gets to the line to end that mini-run

> James owns Diaw for once and dunks, back to 14, glimmmer of drama... so Duncan with the old-school make

> Chalmers with his best game of the Finals, which is damning with no praise

> Parker makes off the terrible Bosh three attempts, the lead is back to 18 with 9 minutes left, and this is starting to get outside the realm of math

> Heat suffer a turnover out of a timeout on the inbounds, which doesn't say much for the coaching of bench players

> Beasley with the follow dunk on James' three, but loses Diaw on the resulting three-pointer

> Wade hits a three to show he's not dead yet

> Parker owns on the hesitation make, just artistry

> James makes, but trading buckets isn't cutting the lead

> Parker again, no answer for Miami on defense

> Green misses the killshot three, but it's 18 with 6:30 left anyway

> James out of the huddle and on the bench, which has to be giving his haters fresh wood

> Wade gets to the line, misses both, stick a fork in him for at least this year

> Wade to Bosh on the break, can't finish, which is the series in microcosm

> Six straight makes by Parker, who seems determined to salvage his percentages

> Beasley really looks like he could have helped his team at some point in this series, but he's hopeless on defense

> It's rare that you see garbage time with so many name players trying to make thematic points

> Wade, James and Bosh out with 3:15 left, and let the rampant and pointless speculation begin

> I'd say something about the last two minutes of game play, but why be better than the professional game coverage

> The Right Way is cited, because guys taking less money for the chance to play for a championship is clearly very, very wrong

> ESPN feels that we will never see this kind of continuity again, because the NBA doesn't copy successful formulas at all

> All four victories were by over 15 points, which didn't say much for why we watched

> The stars and coaches couldn't wait for the game to end to hug, which seemed wrong, really

> Five titles in 15 years is a very odd form of dynasty

> Leonard is your MVP, because he pl;ayed the most like LeBron for the winning team (and yeah, it's an easy choice)

> He becomes the third youngest Finals MVP in history, and um, yeah, the Spurs' window isn't exactly closed

> Honestly, this might be the Finals again next year, which means Commissioner Silver desperately needs to end the conference playoff system

The Poker Diaries: One Mistake

Some of this was mine
As a general rule of thumb, humans will only risk an asset if they feel that they are likely to double up for the risking of the asset. So poker is, as a rule, something that is not practiced by healthy human beings, since even the best players rarely win twice as much as they lose. Even on average earning power metrics, a 200% ROI on a consistent basis is damn near impossible. The game is too subject to the vagaries of luck, and if you run into the wrong hand and table, you are going down. At any moment.

This is also why the defeats last so much longer on your psyche. And why you've got to figure out how to get over them, assuming that you are going to keep playing the game, or getting better at it.

One of the rules of my home game is that we take 10% of the side pot from every tournament buy-in, and put it towards a Player of the Year prize. You get a point for entering, one for each player you outlast, and a double score if you win, so my home game promotes a fair amount of heads-up play. We've ran the game in this way for four years, and I've finished twice in the first two years, before breaking through in the fourth. So I had to take some portion of my winnings and try to roll it into a World Series of Poker or World Poker Tour event.

The smart way to do this, of course, is to just play online, but I hate and fear online poker. The idea that I could be facing some 18-table huge monitor math mutant, or all of the various times that people have gone into God Mode with some terrible piece of cheating software, tells me that's not the game for me. You see things happen online that you just don't see anywhere else, and I'm generally patient, and I don't need to play all the time. The occasional casino, and every three weeks home game, is more than enough for me.

(Also, if you believe in omens, I wasn't going into this in a position of strength. I don't get sick very often, but when I do, it's a monstrous affair, and so it was here -- fevers, chills, constant clear nasal drip and a throbbing headache. It felt like allergies, so I tried to exercise it out, which also probably didn't help, as I wound up with frayed hamstrings and overall ache. Friday was better, so I medicated myself up and talked myself into the attempt. I don't think it had any impact on the outcome.)

With the WSOP already starting in Las Vegas, I needed to get on this. So I decided to pull the trigger on a 1-day deep stack event at the Borgata today in Atlantic City. 25K starting stacks, 30 minute periods, a likely 12 to 18 hour session with a $100K guaranteed total purse. It attracted 350 entries from a little over 240 contestants, and it was my first time at the room that many feel is the best poker room on the East Coast. 11am start, so I drove down for the day.

First things first: money's tight, so I had no funds possible for a rebuy, no matter what. I also wanted to play tight and patient, as it's just not an event that you are going to win quickly... and the cards obliged this gambit in a big way, as I see a wide range of 10-2, 8-3 and 7-4 offsuit. I turn off the phone and focused, and started putting together my book of information on the players at the table. The player in Seats 2 and 3 (I'm in Seat 4) are nice and tight, and the two to my left are loose, so I'm in a good place to be slow. In 80 or so hands of play, I catch pairs four times; deuces, fours twice, and sixes; on all of those, I see a flop for a reasonable price, don't catch trips, and wind up happy to be out, as bigger pocket pairs carry the day. A-Q offsuit happens for me twice, and I'm able to cash those without showing a hand. I'm also able to be more or less even on a half dozen position steals. Not something I'm thrilled with doing too often, but if I had just played good hands, I'd have been the tightest player at the table by a factor of four.

Seat seven is the action seat. Our first maniac of the day is more interested in his newspaper, tablet and food than his cards, and his day is more or less sealed in the first hand, when there are just four players at the table, and he gets three folds in front of his pocket aces. Don't think I'd have shown that if I was him. I take some of his money with c-bet bluffs, because he's in 2 out of every 3 hands, but most of it goes to the player in Seat One, who's aggro and measured, and I like his game, in that I felt like I got a good read of it. More on that later. Right before the end of period 6, with rebuys ending and down about a grand, I fold 8-9 off to the maniac's every hand 3X BB raised and start to regret it when I see the straight hit on the turn... and then not so much as the board pairs on the river, and the aggro guy pays off the guy to my left's boat. Phew.

After the break, I get back to the table and get 10s in middle position. As I've played few hands, I think I can make these look bigger with relative believability, so I answer aggro player's 3X raise with 2X in return, and don't love two callers. The flop is K-3-5 rainbow. Both callers check, and I throw out a pot sized bet. One fold... and then a shove.

So his story is that he's got a K; I can't put him on low trips. The shove is for 80% of my stack... so what does he think I have? Queens, in all likelihood. So he's got the K and thinks I won't believe him... or he's got pairs that are a lot like mine, Js, 9s or 8s. He also doesn't seem to be too thrilled that I'm thinking things over, not that he's giving off extreme tells. If I'm wrong, I only have 10BBs left, but I don't think I'm wrong; if he's got a K, he's better off calling and raising again on the turn to get full value out of me. It just doesn't pass the smell test. I call, and he turns over 8s, blank blank bang, and he's amazed that I made the call. Well, I don't need compliments, I need chips. And now I've got 40K of them.

Next hand is 8-9 suited. I limp and hope to see a cheap flop, but new crazy aggro guy in the action seat three to my left throws his usual 3X at it. Three callers makes the math for me easier, so I make the call. Nice pot, and it's looking better when the flop is 9-2-3 rainbow. Pot sized bet gets the all-in for only $1400 more from action man, and I'm not thrilled with having to call here, but I like it better when he turns over A-J. Six out for him is pretty thin odds, but the turn is a J, and the river a blank. He lives and I'm back to 32K. Dammit.

Ten hands pass, and on at least eight of those hands are 3X raises and c-bets from crazy aggro guy, with an awful lot of blind stealing, and two hands of utterly random cards hitting on the river. I fold on all of these, and get Q-10 suited (diamonds). Well, hell, that's a hand, and I've got chips, and his stack is my size; if I hit this hard, he's giving his chips to someone. Might as well be me. Call.

The flop is Q-5-8, the 5 and 8 are diamonds, and damn, that's as good as I can hope for, really. I check to get his inevitable raise, and he makes it 5X the blind. I raise, he re-raises.

And that's when I screw up, and in tournaments, it really only takes one misfire for it all to come crashing down. A 2 or 3X re-raise should tell me everything I need to know here. But I've hit top pair, reasonable kicker, 4 to a flush -- and he's not priced as pocket Qs or better, or A-Q for that matter. I shove. And he calls, with A-Q.

Well, crap. I'm not dead in the water -- 11 outs with 2 to go -- but blank blank bust, and here goes 95% of my stack, and any real shot at things. The Borgata dealer makes a hash of the pot, and it takes a lot of work from the players to convince her that I've still got chips; they don't seem very engaged with the idea that they are working an important event to the rest of us. With fewer than 5 BBs left and antes starting to boot, every hand now is shove or fold. I make Broadway and quad up from K-10 off two hands later, getting me back to 12 BBs, then find 6s. Shove, called by As, and the coup de gras is that I make the straight on the turn, only to see my caller hit a freaking straight flush on the river. As if the usual four cards on the board flush wasn't bad enough.

Takeaways? Well, I don't think I was the worst player in the room, or at my table. If the guy who crippled me doesn't hit his six-outer from overcards, I avoid him later. If I hit my flush or 10 draw -- 46%, according to the site I use to calculate such things -- I'm chip leader at the table and running hot. Hell, if the club doesn't hit on the river on my final hand, I've got half of a starting stack and might have been on the comeback trail. Instead, I'm on the rail a lot earlier than I anticipated, and driving back home with all of this rattling around in my head.

Oh, and I just checked the Borgata blog, just to hurt myself. They just went to the final table, and the guy who crippled me is chip leader. If he wins, he takes down $35K. Guess he kept running hot. (Well, no; he didn't hold it at the final. Still won a lot of money, though.) And so it goes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spurs - Heat Game Four Takeaways: Well, So Much For A Long And Competitive Series

Kawhi Fly
When I get sick, I don't mess around. Last night, what seemed like an ordinary case of allergies did not respond my usual running cure, and I wound up tearing the house apart trying to find some Benadryl to put me on my ass and stop the flood coming out of my nose. Which means that my family left me alone, and I got to see the whole game as I drifted in and out of consciousness with fevers, chills and a throbbing head. Not what you want when there's all of that Bill Simmons to wade through, but I gutted it out. More than the Heat could say...

> It's a shame the Spurs were so much better, because I really feel like we've wasted the Joey Crawford card

> Mario Chalmers with the very predictable early forcing it move on offense, because that's what bad and struggling players do

> Early Spurs lead on kitteny-soft ball movement, capped by the Danny Green three, and it's 13-4 after five minutes; we've seen this before

> Tim Duncan really can't come out to the perimeter to guard Chris Bosh, as that's a layup looking to happen

> Bosh with 6/2 early to cap the mini-run

> LeBron James to the locker room running late in the first quarter, and the world is thinking just one thing: cramps, but it's just the restroom

> Parker with a crazy make at the end of a scattered possession, and that's all kinds of unfair

> Wade misses in transition, and Kawhi Leonard gets to the line the other way, and honestly, that used to rarely happen to the Heat

> James over Tiago Splitter for a hero ball three, and that's a big shot for a lot of reasons

> Wade not finishing in transition, and that's kind of telling

> Shane Battier and Matt Bonner in, and Bonner dribble-drives and makes for your video highlight of What Year Is This Anyway

> Paddy Mills with the three to push it back to nine, and he's been a real help for the Spurs with that

> James over Bonner is just obviously unfair, really

> LeBron ends the quarter with a bad turn and a heroball three miss, and it's Spurs 26, Heat 17

> Green with his third three-pointer make, and the lead goes to 14

> Norris Cole on and makes, maybe that's the end for Chalmers

> Leonard with a great block on Bosh down low, and the Spurs then go touch-pass clinic to get it back to 13

> Through 16 minutes, the Heat have 20 points, which causes Allen to can a three and remind me not to note such things

> Diaw behind the back to Splitter was Princeton offense orgasmic

> Leonard with a crazy strong make out of the timeout, and he's really starting to look like the Next LeBron

> Chalmers misses, Ginobili does not, and the lead is back to 14

> The Heat are on pace to score 72 points, and have as many assists as Boris Diaw

> Parker misses twice as Jeff van Gundy preaches passion, because it's easier to say play with passion, rather than be better at passing and defense

> Toney Douglas in for the Heat, as Erik Spoelstra is desperate

> Chalmers with a make as the Heat go super-small

> Wade gets to the line and gives America a chance to look at his terrible numbers

> James gets blocked by Ginobili, Bosh gets blocked by Duncan, the refs don't bail either man out, and the possession ends with a Mills 3; borderline kill-shotty, as the lead goes to 20

> Mills misses the three, Leonard skies for the follow dunk, and Miami Fan boos -- America just experienced orgasm

> James with a hero ball 3, which cuts the lead to 19, and, um, didn't we see this game already?

> Finally, a James flush in transition, but Parker really could not care less

> James much better in the third, but the Spurs are still matching every bucket

> Wade drew a floppish foul on Leonard, and James makes to get the lead down to 13

> Duncan with old school bank to stop the bleeding, as ABC wonders if James is all there

> Wade can't finish a layup, is now 1 of 9, and ye gads

> Leonard gets his double-double with 18 minutes of game left

> Diaw at the end of the clock just goes to the cup with ease, and so much for the Heat mini-run; lead is back to 20

> Leonard blocks James, but gets his third, and man alive, do the Heat need to get him off the floor

> Wade is denied whistles at both ends, and Duncan slams; he's just walking now and looks quitterish; lead goes back to 21 with 16 minutes left

> James with a 3, might be the only good Heat player tonight

> Technical foul on Chris Andersen, just so you remember who the ref was in this one

> James with 19 of the Heat's 21 in the third, but without stops, it means nothing

> Third ends as Spurs 81, Heat 57, and the over-under on number of Heat fans left in the building at the end of this one is 12.5%

> ESPN flashes Diaw with 7 assists, Heat with 7, and more turnovers than dimes

> Mills with a wild 3, and that might be it

> Udonis Haslem in for a little spark of I Give A Damn

> Wade draws Green's fifth, not it matters at all

> Heat with a 7-0 run to cut it to 18, and Popovich calls time, because that's just who he is

> Mills with another three of a Diaw dish, and that man is making himself some money this series

> Leonard dominates Wade to end another mini-run

> Diaw closing in on a triple double, then Leonard steals it and keeps the possession alive after a mix; he just cares more than the Heat

> Leonard leaves with 20/14/3 with 3 steals, 1 block, and did it all on 12 shots

> Nothing of consequence happens in the last five minutes, and this is looking a lot like Spurs-Blazers

> 13 Spurs players play, 13 players score

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Heat are targeting Carmelo Anthony

Designated Scapegoat
10) Feel that it would help the state if wealthy aging New Yorkers were given the idea of relocating to Florida

9) Team clearly needs a hero ball option for stagnant offensive possessions

8) He's clearly better than Michael Beasley, or even Rashard Lewis, and that might be all they need him to be

7) Fantastic scapegoat for any future failings

6) Natural fallback if LeBron James decides to quit basketball to take up baseball, get a sex change operation and join the WNBA, or evenly more unlikely, go back to Cleveland

5) It's not as if the team needs a point guard, big man with defensive skills, or three-point shooter that isn't pushing 40

4) Would finally give the team's superstars an opportunity to cash in on lucrative off-court business opportunities

3) Anthony's commitment to padding his regular season numbers would help the team's real stars get even more time off in the Leastern Conference from October through April

2) Asking all of the team's players with rings to take pay cuts so they can have enough cash to attract a moody ball hog is sure to work from a chemistry standpoint

1) Would finally make the team likable to non-Heat fans, and get the team critical media exposure

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